The Fetishization of Virginity

I’ve never really understood why so many people put (female) virginity on such a pedestal. Personally, I’d much rather know that my partner knows what they’re doing. When I get my car’s brakes checked, I prefer to have a mechanic with some experience. When I go to the doctor, knowing that they have years of experience in her profession gives me much more confidence. And when I have sex with someone, the fact that they’re skilled and practiced makes it much more fun.

I will admit that I do sometimes enjoy being someone’s first. The experience is sort of like being the first person to walk on fresh snow- there’s a certain pleasure that comes from taking the lead and helping someone discover a new way of enjoying sex. And I’ve always been of the opinion that we have plenty of virginities. Why limit it to penis/vagina intercourse? If you’ve never given someone a blowjob, or never been tied up, or never had sex with the lights on, or never tried pegging, those are all virginities you can explore and play with. It can be a lot of fun to help someone find out how much pleasure can be had from a new kind of sex.

Of course, for most people, virginity is about PV intercourse, and our individual and cultural relationships with the concept are both fascinating and tangled. I’m thrilled to see that Therese Shechter’s Kickstarter fund for How to Lose Your Virginity has met its goal. I met Therese at Momentum and we took a few minutes for a quickie interview. Check it out below. (Though I do have to say that I was on a lot of flu meds at the time. :-)) They need $1600 more in pledges in the next two days to get their funding. If you can help, please do.

Granted, much of the fetishization of virginity has to do with controlling women’s sexuality and reproduction. And unfortunately, that leads to all sorts of things like slut-shaming women who have “too many” partners, reinforcing stereotypes that enable sexual assault and outdated gender roles, and disrespecting women. It’s time to let go of all of that. It’s time to stop talking about virginity as if it’s something magical, or as if having sex makes one dirty. It’s time we talked about sexual experience as a positive thing. It’s time that we said that knowing what you like to do and how you like to do it makes you a more skilled lover.

As much fun as it can be to be someone’s first every now and then, give me a lover with skills and experience. That’s a much better time than being with a total noob. And since we all have things to try for the first time, it’s especially fun to introduce an experienced lover to something new. But then, I’ve always been about the both/and, especially when it comes to sex.

Check out How to Lose Your Virginity and follow them on twitter or on facebook to keep track of the film’s progress. I’m looking forward to seeing it!

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16 Responses so far.

  1. Brad says:

    Personally, I don’t see any advantage in virginity. No amount of sex will “wear out” the equipment of either men or women. On the other hand, frequent use keeps the penis and vagina ready for use when the opportunuity arises.

  2. Mindet says:

    Totally agree, except that it works the other way too.  Here in the UK, virgins of both sexes are considered very undesirable by mainstream, secular culture.  I don’t understand that either.  You know what they say, “one part skill, nine parts communication”?  Someone could have had sex with plenty of people and still make you feel horrible because they just won’t identify and talk about what turns them on and what works for them physically.  I find the number of sexual partners someone has had, even if it’s zero, is no indication at all of what they’ll be like as a lover.

  3. Mindet says:

    I’ve been turning this over in my head, and I’m wondering why, Charlie, you don’t reject the term/concept “virgin”, when you reject the term “platonic”.  I’d say that the whole idea of virginity comes from a very unhealthy place.  As I said above, I don’t believe that it’s of any practical use, so I think there’s little point in trying to reclaim it.  I prefer to jettison it altogether.  I know this probably sounds a bit judgmental and hectoring, but I don’t mean it to, I’m just curious as to whether there’s a reason we should keep it.

    (I have talked to survivors of sexual abuse who have been upset by getting a letter instructing them to come for a smear test unless they are “a virgin”.  As a virgin is someone who has never had sex, rape obviously doesn’t count, and yet for medical reasons it needs to be treated as the same.  As a group we concluded that the letters should be reworded, but couldn’t agree on how!  I think it shows how lacking we still are in a common language for sexuality.)

  4. Mindet says:

     Mindet,  Damn.  The survivors in question were female, obviously.  However, the subject has come up in other ways with male survivors I’ve known, who have sympathised with the smear test problem and talked about their experiences of how the concept of virginity messes with their minds and creates lots of additional suffering.  So my question: is the concept worth the pain?

  5. faerierhona says:

    As much as I agree with the generalities I really don’t like the following

    “As much fun as it can be to be someone’s first every now and then, give me a lover with skills and experience. That’s a much better time than being with a total noob.” 

    I am surprised you would write something that can be so hurtful to people who just haven’t had sex yet. There is so much pressure to have sex as young as possible, whether the individual feels ready for it or not, I don’t think calling those who have not a negative term like “noob” is helpful and only adds to the pressure to have sex as early and often as possible to be “good enough”, while still also managing to be a virgin. (Yeah – that dichotomy is all of the fun for us girls) 

  6. Brad says:

    faerierhona, I respect a person’s desire to remain “virgin” for as long as they desire. That is their wont and their decision.

    On the other hand, none of my sexual partners of either sex were rank beginners.(including my wife of 35 years).  We even compared some of our lovers over the years and even got turned on by it.  For a while we attended swinging parties several times a year and compared notes after, much to our mutual titillation.  She found that she also enjoyed sex with other women (expected at swinging parties, though sex between men was taboo).

    At one party, a young woman observed me performing cunnilingus on another woman and approached me afterward to say that her husband had never done that to her, but insisted the she fellate him as a part of any sexual activity. 

    We found a secluded area and I introduced her to the pleasures of having her clitoris licked and sucked.  I hope that she eventually convinced her husband that turn about is fair play.

  7. faerierhona says:

    Brad, I am not quite sure what the relevance of that is? I mean, I am delighted for her and hopefully for her husband who might also have come to enjoy it, but what does that have to do with calling virgins rude names? 

  8. Charlie says:

    Brad, I’m with faerierhona. Your last comment was irrelevant to the topic. Several times, you’ve commented on posts with stories about your personal sex life in ways that are not connected with the topic at hand. We don’t need to hear the details of your sex life. If you continue, I’ll most likely block you from commenting.

  9. Chris O'Sullivan says:

    @faerierhona I don’t read “total noob” as a rude or negative term, it means new to this practice. It may perhaps be diminuative in relation to applied practice. If someone never used a table saw they are a noob in relation to table saws. If they haven’t used any woodworking power tools they are a total noob in relation to woodworking power tools. 
    regarding the OP I agree that a little experience goes a long way and our society’s obsession with this particular status causes more suffering than is warranted.

  10. faerierhona says:

    @Chris O’Sullivan

    It could be a difference in cultural view here. I’m a computer gamer, MMORPGs and this definition from Urban Dictionary absolutely covers what I understand by the term “noob”

    “Contrary to the belief of many, a noob/n00b and a newbie/newb are not the same thing. Newbs are those who are new to some task* and are very beginner at it, possibly a little overconfident about it, but they are willing to learn and fix their errors to move out of that stage. n00bs, on the other hand, know little and have no will to learn any more. They expect people to do the work for them and then expect to get praised about it, and make up a unique species of their own. ”

    In MMOs it is used as a pejorative – in fact I have never heard it used as anything else – could that be a US/ UK (I am in the UK) difference also? Maybe. Nonetheless, even if it isn’t meant in the way I read it (and after a quick chat to my friends, mostly in the 25 – 40 age range they agree) it certainly can and does mean something negative among British gamers 🙂 

    Noob is what is called out to say someone is incompetent, stupid, lazy, that you want rid of them. Phrases such as (and I am so sorry for what I am typing here) “retarded nooooooob!!!” are used in a bullying and nasty way all the time, particularly for inexperienced gamers. 

    So, I have no doubt @Charlie didn’t mean it to be a negative, which is why I expressed such concern, but even using a different word I think the phrasing of that line is troublesome

    As a woman I am, by the media and society in general, expected to be sweet, innocent, hairless, tight, and entirely free of any of the “squelchier” aspects of sex. Watching pornography it seems I am allowed to sigh and bite my lower lip as a sign or orgasm, but god forbid any body fluids. 

    At the same time I am already expected to be prepared to have done to me whatever is required, but it really is “done to me”, not doing. A sexually powerful and confident woman is a thing to be feared, mocked and fetishised. A sexually confident woman is a dominatrix or predator in general media (there are exceptions of course)

    That’s a lot of pressure to start with, right? (I am not saying men have it much better mind. 

    But the phrase reads as rather close to “virgin shaming”. We’re already told that we’re not good enough if we’re sluts, now here it says we’re not good enough if we’re virgins. It’s kinda fun to teach someone new stuff but even if they are “newbs” rather than “noobs”  they are still Not Good Enough. 

    And that’s harsh, in a world with so much sexual pressure already, it only adds to it and even further divides “virgin” and “whore”. In school I, and later my son, faced pressure from around the age of 12 to both have and not have sex. Being a virgin was (and as @Mindet says still is) mocked in the UK, but if you do, it’s instant “slut-ville”

    I like a lot of what @Mindet has written. The concept of rejecting the word “virgin” altogether is an extremely appealing one to me for survivors I imagine it is an especially hurtful term. 


  11. Charlie says:

    Mindet, interestingly, I just found this post:

    “So, is it time to do away with the “V” word altogether? Shechter suggests replacing it with another, less loaded term: “sexual debut”.

  12. Mindet says:

     I’m sorry, I can’t seem to make that link work!  I think it would be a start to use a new term.  That way if someone actively wishes to make the fact that they’ve never had sex, or a particular kind of sex, a part of their identity, they can without using such a negatively-loaded term as “virgin”.  I think it’s the pushing of an identity onto other people that I object to as much as anything; if whether they have had sex or not is unimportant to someone, I think others should take their cue from that really.  I think that defining someone else by their sexual experiences or lack thereof, disregarding their feelings on the subject, is pretty disrespectful.

  13. Mindet says:

    Thanks.  When you say “it only adds to it and even further divides ‘virgin’ and ‘whore'”, that kind of sums up what troubles me here.  I do think that women and girls are shamed if they do, shamed if they don’t.  Men are usually shamed if they don’t, and I have been with more than one man whose first sexual experiences were horrible because they only got involved out of a desire to not be a “noob” any more, and then I had to pick up the pieces.  Everyone loses.

    This also troubles me:

    “As much fun as it can be to be someone’s first every now and then, give me a lover with skills and experience. That’s a much better time than being with a total noob. And since we all have things to try for the first time, it’s especially fun to introduce an experienced lover to something new.”
    What about the other person?  Where is their sexual agency here?  I do wonder if there is more pressure over here to have sex, perhaps making this a hot button in a way it maybe isn’t in the States, but I’m not sure that’s true (happy to be corrected though).


  14. Charlie says:

    Mindet– don’t know what happened but I fixed the link.

  15. Mindet says:

    Charlie, Excellent, thank you very much, it’s a good article.  I’m interested in why it isn’t being seen as more than a thought experiment.  When something causes so much pain I would expect an attitude of “just forget it” to be more widespread, but then I feel that way about gender now, rejecting the binary and any differences except as a bit of fun, so maybe it’s just my character!  It’s been said that if you break people’s chains, the first thing that many of them will do is forge themselves new ones, and I feel that people don’t half like their chains.  Maybe they just don’t see these concepts that way.  Best regards.

  16. Irene says:

    Repeating a bit of what I said a while ago on the Pervocracy: “When I read The Purity Myth [by Jessica Valenti], I had to check twice to see that the author was not a fellow student of mine, as she seemed to be echoing several things that one of my teachers said about people making fetishes of both virginity and non-virginity, whereas in reality becoming sexually active is a process, not a single watershed event.”

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